Cartoon characters Piet Pienter & Bert Bibber are alive and kicking once again.
Variety is key in Belgium, the land of comic books. The Antwerp series Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber stands out with its dry, sarcastic and sometimes even cynical humour in delightfully nostalgic and timeless adventures that have always remained true to the atmosphere of the 1950s. They were conceived, written and drawn by the eccentric and highly idiosyncratic Jozef Van Hove, better known as POM.
'All my life I have signed my work against my will.' You might not expect to hear this from an artist. Or, even: 'Well, a baker doesn't sign his bread'. Jozef Van Hove's fixed response as he waved off requests to sign autographs. Or again, "If I had wanted attention, I would have gone into theatre.' Given so much reticence, it may be a small miracle that the 45 albums, released between 1955 and 1995, created a loyal fan base. Print runs, however, lagged behind the absolute best of Flemish comics. So, on the one hand, there was the principled stance of the spiritual father of Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber. He was reluctant to give interviews and signings, insisted on using 'General Civilised Antwerp' and did not want his albums coloured. On the other hand, these appeared in Gazet van Antwerpen, a regional newspaper with no experience in selling comic books. Once, in the middle of a story, POM suspended delivery of his daily strip to the newspaper for lack of inspiration. There was general consternation among readers. Fortunately, another cartoonist-screenwriter brought salvation, with a story about POM having been kidnapped. Two weeks later, when a new can of inspiration had been opened, the thread picked up where it left off. His difficult character was attributed to his early years. Barely a few days after Joseph's birth, on 16 November 1919, his mother died. And then his father blamed it on him. By his own account, he received more beatings than food, even though he was given plenty to eat. And yet his confidants found him to be warm and cordial at times.
His drawing style betrays his training as a technical engineer. He was particularly good at suggesting movement, such as a car springing around a sharp turn. In his early days, he fell for Hergé's ‘clear line’.
In 2014, Jozef Van Hove died at the age of 94. To commemorate his 100th birthday, Standaard Uitgeverij reissued his 45 albums in 2019 in 11 so-called 'integrals' of 200 pages each, 24 years after the last issue in 1995. And as icing on the cake, the tribute album De geniale soepselder followed in 2022. The success of the album is once again overwhelming, even among readers who are not familiar with the adventures of the calm Piet Pienter, the temperamental Bert Bibber, the clever and super-wealthy American Susan Darling, inventor Professor Kumulus, newshound Theo Flitser and the other colourful characters from the 1950s.
Let yourself be initiated into this lesser-known but incredibly surprising comic series.